Dan Zacharias, for 20 years the lead trackside media relations representative for Ford at NASCAR races, Friday was announced as winner of the 2019 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.
The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.
The announcement and presentation were made at the ISM Raceway media center by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, many of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.
"I know Jim is smiling because of the mutual connection he and Dan share with Ford," said Knight, the award rights-holder. "That makes this most-appropriate recognition of Dan even more meaningful.
“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that solid professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times.
"That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, a shared meal, or the sound of another person’s voice.
"For two decades Dan has been a trusted and reliable resource for journalists reporting on NASCAR, helpful with requests small and large. In that way, Dan has truly worked to the standard, and in the spirit, of Mr. Chapman."
Zacharias has been with the Campbell Marketing and Communications agency, representing Ford, for more than two decades. He began his duties in NASCAR in 1998 with responsibility to work with all forms of media and provide pertinent race weekend information. It's estimated Zacharias has worked with the media at some 600 race weekends.
He also has been a key team member in launching Ford's NASCAR race cars, including Taurus, Fusion and most recently, Mustang.
The Chapman Award has three major purposes: 1. To honor Chapman's unmatched legacy; 2. To recognize current PR practitioners who work to Chapman's standard and in his spirit; 3. To provide inspiration for newer and future PR representatives.
The permanent Jim Chapman Award, currently displayed in the ISM Raceway media center, is cast in bronze and features a classic photo of Jim wearing his favorite navy blue double-breasted blazer and the names of all the award recipients. The text under Jim’s photo reads:
"James P. Chapman (1916-1996). A great man who deeply cared about country and church; family and friends. A legend in the public relations industry who set the ultimate standard of professionalism and excellence. A superstar who superstars like Babe Ruth wanted at their side. A pioneer in motorsports PR who practically invented most of what is now considered routine. A true 'People Person' who knew a mutually-respectful relationship with journalists was important in good times and essential in bad times. A mentor kind enough to help others achieve success. A gentleman who understood nothing could replace the sound of the human voice, a handshake, a face-to-face meeting, a shared meal, a hand-written note of thanks.
“All who ever have, do, or will work in public relations stand on Mr. Chapman's shoulders.
“The true honor of the Jim Chapman Award is not a plaque. The true honor is having one's name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman. A committee of journalists adjudged those named here worthy of this high honor.”
Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.
Chapman, who was born in Macon, Georgia, started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.
Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as ambassador for the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.
Chapman kept with him a money clip with a pockmarked silver dollar that Ruth used to carry during games for good luck. Chapman said Ruth had used the coin for target practice. He proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office. One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest. To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."
In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.
Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.
“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney, who died last year. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”
Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.
Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.
In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
In its obituary, the New York Times wrote that Chapman "served as a father confessor to many top racing drivers." Two-time Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers, "With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high? And we do it right then.”
Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.
Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition. The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city. In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations. Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations. He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.
JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 – (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Jon Edwards and Elon Werner
2015 -- Linda Vaughn (honorary)
2015 -- David Ferroni
2016 -- T.E. McHale and Dan Layton
2017 -- Andy Hall
2018 -- Dick Jordan
2019 -- Dan Zacharias